Chassidic Story #198

(s5761-45 / posted 11 MenachemAv 5761)


Because of his weakened condition, the doctors told Rabbi Sholom-Dovber Schneersohn, known as the Rebbe Reshab,
not to engage in any strenuous physical activity, and even not to over-exert himself mentally.



On a number of occasions, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe (the Rebbe Rayatz) told about his three-month stay in Vienna until just before Pesach in 5663 (Jan.6-Apr. 5, 1903) with his father and predecessor, Rabbi Sholom-Dovber Schneersohn, known as the Rebbe Reshab, who required medical treatment.(1) During that time, they studied together the laws of monetary claims from the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch. They also discourses of Chassidic teaching on the Weekly Torah Reading.

Because of his weakened condition, the doctors told the Rebbe Reshab not to engage in any strenuous physical activity, and even not to over-exert himself mentally.

The Rebbe Reshab's habit during that period was to take a brief rest on the couch after lunch. He didn't lie down exactly, but would sort of recline, with one leg up on the couch. Once, he remained for a considerable time in this position, much longer than usual.

The Rayatz wasn't sure what to do. It seemed as if the Rebbe Reshab wasn't even in this world; he was on his side, and his eyes were bulging in a strange way. He was afraid to wake his father up. But he was even more afraid to leave him be.

He began to walk loudly back and forth near the sofa, hoping his father would wake. When that didn't work, he started moving the table around, making even more noise, but that didn't help either. And by then the hour was getting quite late.

It wasn't until after nine straight hours that the Rebbe finally stirred. "What day is today?" he asked his son. "Which parsha [weekly Torah reading] is it?"

The Rayatz answered him that it was Wednesday, and told him which parsha it was. He thought his father seemed confused. (2)

The Rebbe Reshab then prepared to pray the Evening Prayer, chanting the words in a melody of the Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of the Chabad dynasty). He extended his prayer for a very long time, similar to the custom on the first night of Rosh Hashana.

The next morning, the Rebbe asked his son if they had some money (whenever they traveled together, the latter attended to the finances). Although they were really quite low in funds, he answered "Yes," so as to not disappoint his father. Shortly thereafter, he went and pawned his silver cane, and gave the money to his father. The Rebbe then announced that he would be going out, put on his coat and left. The Rayatz, sensing that his father did not want him along, remained by himself in their hotel suite.

Some time later, there was a knock on the door. He opened to a delivery boy, who asked if he was "Schneersohn." Upon confirmation, he handed him the box he was carrying. Attached was a note that said, in the Rebbe's handwriting, "take this package and pay the man twenty-five crowns."

Over the next few hours, several more packages arrived with the same message, each from a different store. When the Rayatz looked over the names of the firms on the boxes, he realized that they were all of stores specializing in women's and girls' apparel. He presumed that his father had bought presents for his daughter-in-law and granddaughters, the Rayatz's wife and three daughters.

That evening, when the Rebbe Reshab returned, he told his son to prepare to travel. He said they would need to take along tallit and tefillin, but he didn't tell him their destination. The Rayatz had to borrow some money for traveling expenses.

The next day, the Rayatz bundled the packages, paid the hotel bill, and arranged a cab to the train station. Once there, the Rebbe told him to purchase tickets to Pressburg (a major center of Jewry in Central Europe, now Bratislava in Slovakia). When they got off the train, it was 9:30 at night, so they checked into a small inn.

In the morning, the Rebbe Reshab said, 'We must go to pay a shiva call to the family of a pious Torah scholar who are in mourning. The Rayatz started to look for a carriage to take them into the city, but his father told him they would walk, which surprised him. He picked up the suitcase and they headed downtown.

On the street they encountered a hurrying yeshiva student. The Rebbe Reshab stopped him and asked for directions to a certain home. The young man responded impatiently, "I'm sorry, I don't have time; I'm in a rush to get back to the yeshiva. Just go straight and ask further on."

"Indeed," said the Rebbe. "Is that how you fulfill the mitzvah of hospitality? Can't you tell that we are strangers here?"

The young man calmed down and apologized. He explained to them carefully how to go, and then added that the family was sitting shiva. Upon further questioning, it turned out that the head of the family, Rabbi Avraham Bick, had passed away during the hours of the Rebbe's unusual long rest on the sofa.

The Rebbe thanked the student and continued with his son down the street. When they reached the house they entered, and there they saw a women with her three daughters, sitting in the manner of mourners. After offering words of comfort to the widow and her daughters, the Rebbe then suggested to his son that they go out for a while. They walked, and came upon a large yeshiva with many students who were sitting and studying. The Rebbe engaged a few of them in discussions about what they were learning. Among these was the young man who had given them directions. The Rebbe entered into a pilpul [complex Talmudic analysis] with one of the students, and afterwards praised him highly.

Upon returning to the house, the Rebbe spoke again to the bereaved. When they asked him who he was, he told them that he was a distant relative. When they asked if he knew the deceased, he responded that it didn't matter. He asked if it could be arranged for him to obtain kosher milk. He and his son stayed over two nights in Pressburg.

In a subsequent visit the next day, the Rebbe guided the conversation to the subject of the girls' future. The woman complained about her difficult situation, especially now that her husband had died. She couldn't afford to buy clothes for her two oldest daughters who were of marriageable age, nor was she being approached with appropriate matches for them.

The Rebbe recommended to her the yeshiva student whose analytical abilities he had praised as a match for her eldest daughter, and for her second daughter he suggested the young man they had first met in the street. "And don't worry about trousseaus for them," added the Rebbe. "I have everything they need!"

Eventually, both these matches were successful. Before each engagement became official, the young bride-to-be received a parcel of clothing from the purchases of the Rebbe Reshab, and everything fit perfectly! The total cost of all that he had brought was a few hundred rubles, a very large sum in those days. The first wedding took place while the Rebbe was still in Vienna, the second a few months later, a fortnight after Shavuot.

Nearly ten years later, the Rebbe Rayatz happened to be in the Pressburg area. He decided to look up the Bick daughters to see how things had worked out. He found the street but could not locate the house. There was now a large brick home where previously the cottage had stood.

A young woman came out and greeted him. She said she recognized him as having been present with his father at her two older sisters' engagements. She told him that she too was now married and happily so, thank G-d, but that both her sisters were living in much more fortunate and prestigious circumstances. (3) Her older brother-in law was the chief rabbi of a prominent city and the other was the dean of a yeshiva (other version: a shochet). "I wish your father had arranged my match too!"


Compiled and retold by Yrachmiel Tilles from 1) Shmuos and Sipurim I, pp. 108-110, by Rafael Cohen in the name of his father Nachman who was part of a small select group of chassidim who heard it directly from the Rebbe Rayatz in a small village near Nushkina; 2) Reshimas Devorim I, pp. 164-166, in the name of Chaim Meir Liss who attended to the Rebbe Reshab during his cure; 3) Reshimas #94; 4) the endnotes in the research paper: "A Tale of Two Orphans: The Limits of Categorisation" by Joseph H. Berke and Stanley Schneider.
[You may pass on this email rendition to whomever you wish as long as you give full credit, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.] (An earlier, less detailed version was published in Kfar Chabad Magazine-English.)

Editor's notes:
(1) One reason for the trip was ro seek treatment for a disturbing loss of sensation on the back of his left hand, which had been bothering him for three months Another reason was to relieve the personal pressure under which the Rebbe felt himself, which led to a consultation during that stay in Vienna with Dr. Sigmund Freud!
(2) The Lubavitcher Rebbe once said (Shabbos Shemini 5744) that the series of Chassidic discourses of the year 5672 (1912)-informally known as "Ayin-Beis"- had its inception in this nine-hour period on 21 Adar (Feb. 18, 1903) during which-as the Rebbe Rayatz described it-the Rebbe Reshab transcended time.
(3) The names of the Beck daughters and their husbands, in order of age, are:
Chaya Gela (Katalin) and Joseph Neumann; Faiga and Yosef Lefkowitch; Nechama and Zev-Wolf Neumann.
The name of Rav Bick's widow was Miriam. Her maiden name was Reiness. She too was part of a distinguished family. Her brother, Yitzchak Yaacov Reiness, was the head of the Mizrachi (Religious Zionism) Movement. Under his influence the Bick family had moved to Palestine, but they returned because of Miriam's ill health. The Bicks also had six sons, one of whom predeceased his father.

Biographical notes:
Rabbi Sholom-Dovber Schneersohn (Cheshvan 20, 1860 - Nissan 2, 1920), known as the Rebbe Reshab, was the fifth Rebbe of the Lubavitcher dynasty. He is the author of hundreds of major tracts in the exposition of Chassidic thought.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880-10 Shvat 1950), known as the Rebbe Rayatz, was the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, from 1920 to 1950. In 1940 he moved to the USA, established Chabad world-wide headquarters in Brooklyn and launched the global campaign to renew and spread Judaism in all languages and in every corner of the world, the campaign continued and expanded so remarkably successfully by his son-in-law and successor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Rabbi Avraham Pick, originally from Mahilov-Padolien (near Uman, in the Ukraine), was the author of "Bikorei Aviv"-a wide-ranging commentary on the Weekly Torah Readings and also certain sections of the Prophets, as well as on the Talmud and on Jewish Law, published in Lvov in 5633 (1873) with approbations from many of the leading Lithuanian sages of the generation. In it he quotes often from "gedolei ha'admorim" ["great Chassidic masters"], which, according to Rabbi S.Z. Schneursohn, were revealed in a subsequent supplement to be mostly Chabad sources.

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